Dear President, dear Commissioner, dear colleagues! First of all: Europe is facing enormous challenges, and these challenges are at the centre of our debate. Today, we agreed on CO2, on the Climate Agreement, and we are all aware that this is our main challenge. However, we must be aware that we can’t reach a lot of people with facts and laws alone: we must put emotions into our argument to show what Europe really means. This is why in my speech two weeks ago, when we discussed the State of the Union with Jean-Claude Juncker, I floated the idea of offering every youngster in Europe what young people experienced this summer with InterRail: a trip to get to know Europe’s beauty, to meet their neighbours in other countries, befriend them. In other words, to quite simply feel what it means to be a European. This is why I proposed giving a free InterRail ticket to every 18 year-old.
Firstly, I want to make clear that it wasn’t my idea. There were a lot of initiatives that brought this up before, that pointed out that this could be an approach for Europe’s youth. I therefore thank tens of thousands of young people for their support, who picked up the idea on the internet, on social media. According to surveys in Germany, 84% of the young generation in Germany support the idea. Jean-Claude Juncker and the responsible Commissioner Bulc showed their support, and at state and government level too. Matteo Renzi for instance, to mention a Social Democrat, said that he could envisage the idea. So, there is a momentum to seize this opportunity now and we should work on it now.
By the way, it is also remarkable to see who is against it. It is the nationalists who don’t want you to see the friend in the neighbour, who don’t want you to recognise the neighbour as a friend.
The Commissioner mentioned Erasmus as a model. This is our youth project so that young people can meet each other, a huge success for Europe and a positive investment. We can complement it with InterRail; an investment with which we offer all the young people in Europe the possibility to experience this continent.
When we are talking about money, it is often said that it would be much more important to consolidate the Youth Guarantee, to invest money in education and training. I say that we shouldn’t make it one or the other, but that we should try to tackle both ambitiously.
I would like to mention that I myself have the InterRail experience. I used this method twice to get to know Europe. To illustrate how it may be something for Great Britain: on my first InterRail trip to London, I was fascinated by this great city in Great Britain. I was fascinated that I could experience England via InterRail. And I really experienced Europe’s beauty using the British example. I would like others to experience this, and this is why I want to thank all those who have already provided the preliminary work. I would also like to thank the Commission for its openness.
And now let’s get on to details! It must be concrete, the detailed work begins now. We must invite youth associations, we must invite the railway companies and we must of course keep an eye on the budget, so that everything stays realistic. These are the points that have to be tackled now. My Group wants this to be a success.
(Translation from the original German)